“Neither Dead Nor Alive:” Ukrainian Language on the Brink of Romanticism


  • Taras Koznarsky University of Toronto




At the end of the eighteenth century through the first decades of nineteenth century, as the last vestiges of Ukrainian autonomy were abolished, Ukrainian elites and intelligentsia embarked on a diverse range of projects (addressing geography, history, ethnography, travel writing, journalism, and literature) aimed at privileging and promoting their cultural capital within the Russian imperial field of cultural production. The Ukrainian language and its origins, nature, and status came to the fore in these projects as Ukrainian literati carefully gauged their messages for both Ukrainian and metropolitan audiences in order to engage playfully and polemically with imperial perceptions of Ukraine and to further the cause of the Ukrainian language as a distinctive linguistic system, cultural legacy, and literary medium. These often cautious and purposefully ambiguous characterizations, classifications, and applications prepared the ground for the romantic generation of writers who dramatically expanded the stylistic and generic range of Ukrainian in their literary works and translations, and forcefully argued for the language’s autonomy, dignity, and expressive potential. While early romantic Ukrainian writings were seen as colourful linguistic and ethnographic regional variants useful for the development of Russian imperial and national culture, the growth of Ukrainian literature alarmed both Russian critics and administrators, who began to see in these developments not only unproductive and anachronistic vexations, but also a culturally and ideologically subversive agenda that had to be discouraged. By surveying and examining diverse classifications and discussions of the Ukrainian language by Ukrainian and Russian literati, the article questions the limits of so-called “Ukrainophilia” in Russian imperial culture of the early nineteenth century.


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Author Biography

Taras Koznarsky, University of Toronto

Associate Professor, Dept. of Slavic Languages and Literatures